Following a record-setting performance in 2020, OverDrive Education has reported that e-book checkouts through its Sora student reading app increased 62% year-over-year in 2021 and that digital audio checkouts grew by 24%. Perhaps not surprisingly, digital checkouts of the consistently hot comics-and-graphic-novels category rose 100% over 2020. These results continue the upward trend sparked by the switch to remote and hybrid learning situations necessitated by the pandemic.

Even as students widely returned to the classroom in 2021, growth in Sora’s usage continued, suggesting that many educators and schools have embraced the greater move to digital and rely on it more to support their teaching and learning goals. In addition, new Sora customers have come online. More than 53,000 K-12 schools worldwide now use the app, up from 44,000 schools one year ago.

The Sora app itself was enhanced with new capabilities over the past year, including tools that allow educators (with proper permissions) to access student-level data. Other Sora features arriving in 2021 include access to 50 digital magazines, including National Geographic Kids, Time for Kids, and The Week Junior. And Sora Showcase—free, customizable software—allows schools to turn any touchscreen display into a promotional kiosk showcasing titles in their school’s Sora collection.

In another shift seen nationwide, educators and parents have turned to digital books as one tool to help address the critical social-emotional learning needs of students who are coping with various stresses and difficulties the pandemic has wrought in their lives. OverDrive Education looked more closely at the SEL category, which the company has characterized as titles with topics including “conquering fears, disability, racism, and coping with tragedy” and organized it into its own Top 10 lists:

The top 10 SEL juvenile titles (e-books and audiobooks combined) in 2021:

1. Guts by Raina Telgemeier

2. Smile by Raina Telgemeier

3. New Kid by Jerry Craft

4. President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston

5. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

6. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

7. The Bad Seed by Jory John, illus. by Pete Oswald

8. El Deafo by Cece Bell

9. Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

10. The Good Egg by Jory John, illus. by Pete Oswald

The top 10 SEL young adult titles (ebooks and audiobooks combined) in 2021:

1. Not Hungry by Kate Karyus Quinn

2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

3. Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

5. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

6. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

7. The Game by Elizabeth Neal

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

9. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

10. The Date by Brenda Scott Royce

The most popular juvenile fiction genres in 2021:

1. Comics and graphic novels

2. Action and adventure

3. Social themes (includes friendship, self-esteem and self-reliance, prejudice and racism, and more)

4. Fantasy and magic

5. Mystery and detective stories

The most popular young adult fiction genres in 2021:

1. Action and adventure

2. Romance

3. Social themes (includes friendship, self-esteem and self-reliance, prejudice and racism, and more)

4. Fantasy

5. Thrillers and suspense

And the most-circulated titles in the STEM and STEAM category, which has been performing well for the past few years, ranked as follows:


1. The Unofficial Guide to Engineering in Minecraft by Sam Keppeler

2. Estaciones (Seasons) by Robin Nelson

3. Living Fossils by Rebecca E. Hirsch

4. Zombie Makers by Rebecca L. Johnson

5. Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly

6. Shark Lady by Jess Keating

7. The Most Beautiful Roof in the World by Kathryn Lasky

8. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

9. One Well by Rochelle Strauss

10. To the Moon! by Jodie Shepherd

Young Adult

1. The Freddy Files by Scott Cawthon

2. This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew

3. Phineas Gage by John Fleischman

4. Very, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert Marrin

5. Blood, Bullets, and Bones by Bridget Heos

6. Comics Confidential by Leonard S. Marcus

7. Patient Zero (Revised Edition) by Marilee Peters

8. Game On!—Video Game History from Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft, and More by Dustin Hansen

9. Girl Code by Andrea Gonzales

10. Bioluminescence by Marc Zimmer